Thursday, January 19, 2017

Scientific Experimention on the Cover of Weird Tales

If science is the religion of the twentieth (and twenty-first) century, and if the god of science is an indifferent god, and if human beings are merely material objects without souls, then human sacrifice in the cause of science can be considered acceptable, even desirable. Witness Nazi experimentation on their victims. That's just some theorizing on my part. But on the cover of Weird Tales and other pulp magazines, the imagery of scientific experimentation isn't very much different from that of the fiend and murderer, or of human sacrifice and execution. Note the first three images shown below, especially the second, in which the woman is bound to what looks like a stainless steel table, her tormentor wields a scalpel instead of a knife, and he also wears a white lab coat instead of a red robe. He is evidently a scientist, but he acts like a cultist or a fiend. In my mind, that's a strange and significant association.

Weird Tales, January 1926. Cover story: "Stealer of Souls." Cover art by Andrew Brosnatch.

Weird Tales, November 1929. Cover story: "The Gray Killer" by Everil Worrell. Cover art by C.C. Senf.

Weird Tales, May 1930. Cover story: "The Brain-Thief" by Seabury Quinn. Cover art by C. C. Senf.

Weird Tales, April 1935. Cover story: "The Man Who Was Two Men" by Arthur William Bernal. Cover by Margaret Brundage.

Weird Tales, February 1938. Cover story: "Frozen Beauty" by Seabury Quinn. Cover art by Virgil Finlay.

Weird Tales, November 1944, Canadian edition. Cover story [?]: "Death's Bookkeeper" by Seabury Quinn. Cover art by an unknown artist. The cover artist or artists for the Canadian edition of Weird Tales seem to have worked pretty readily from a picture file: that's obviously a depiction of Boris Karloff and an even more realistic image of a snake.

Next: Whips, Chains, Bondage and Torture.

Text and captions copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley


  1. There sure are a lot of ifs in your opening statement.
    I don't see Nazi experimentation on people as an adherence to "science as an indifferent god" (perhaps "amoral" would be a more appropriate adjective than "indifferent"), but rather an example of the belief that some races are superior to others, taken to the most horrific of extremes.
    Maybe I'm reading too much into this comment, but it seems to me that you are following a common thread that many theists believe regarding atheists; the premise that, since many people use science as their road to atheism, then science must be their god, and Atheism their religion. I understand this logic, but the conclusion is erroneous.
    This fallacious conclusion, I think, is born out of many (if not all) theists being unable to conceive of life without Faith. They see Faith as intrinsic to human makeup. But that is not the case. Atheism is not another belief system, not another religion. Rather, it is an observation, a conclusion about the nature of reality; one which doesn't require, doesn't include a deity.
    A favorite analogy of mine is "Atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby."

    I have to agree that fiendishness is a common theme in the first three covers here. The fourth cover, however, looks like it might be an image of well-intentioned science gone wrong; while the moral nature of the fifth cover is quite ambiguous. And the closing image of dear Boris is just generically creepy. All are very intriguing in their own way.

    1. Mike,

      Your second paragraph has made me want to take a closer look at each of these covers.

      There are six in all. Only two--the second and third--show a scientist, physician, or other person using science and technology for nefarious purposes. The others are either unclear, ambiguous, or neutral, although the last, from Canada, seems to be a portrait of evil.

      The first cover requires some study. The man in white might just as easily be a physician or a dentist as anything else. But then you see that the unconscious man is emitting a vapor from his mouth, and then there is his image--his soul, I guess--caught in the bubble above his head. So is that good or bad? Maybe he's being saved in some way. Maybe that's a freezer bag and he's going into cryogenic storage. Only the title--"Stealer of Souls"--gives you a clue that things might not be altogether right.

      As for the fourth and fifth covers, it isn't obvious that the people inside the enclosures are victims of some mad scientist. There must be more to the story than what the illustration tells you. The result of course is that you want to read the story.

      That's a mixed bag. And there were only six covers. I'm surprised there weren't more mad scientists on the cover of Weird Tales.

      Part two below.

    2. As for your first paragraph: I wasn't thinking at all of atheism when I wrote what I wrote. I was thinking of science as a replacement for religion. I don't think of science and atheism as being synonymous.

      What got me started on the theorizing is the close similarity between: a) the second cover and images of human sacrifice, and b) of the third cover and images of the fiend or murderer about which I previously wrote. In the human sacrifice cover, a scientist or physician takes the place of the cultist, the examination table takes the place of the sacrificial slab or altar, and a scalpel takes the place of the sacrificial knife. In the fiend cover, a hypodermic needle takes the place of the fiend's knife or blade. The writers and artists for the magazine were evidently sensitive to developments in our culture and society. I believe they were onto something when they depicted scientists, physicians, or technicians in the same way that they depicted cultists, fiends, and murderers.

      I mentioned Nazis only because they were so obviously in pursuit of a murderous kind of science, or I should call it pseudoscience. And if you look at the cults, mass movements, pseudo-religions, and other crackpot systems of the last 170 years, you begin to notice that many if not all of them tried to back their murderousness with scientific, pseudoscientific, or pseudo-historical evidence or claims:

      Socialists claim that history is a science and that the future is predictable if not immutable. Also, being materialists, they believe human beings to be merely material objects. Theosophists claim that there were continents where there have never been continents and that there is a secret history of the world. Social Darwinists believed that Darwinian evolution plays out or ought to play out in society. Progressives believed in eugenics and the perfectibility of the human genome (a word they would not have used). Nazis had their crackpot racial theories. Communists had their Lysenkoism. Scientologists believe in engrams, the reactive mind, and other nonsense. The list could go on and on. The point is that now that God is dead, science has been used to supplant him as the ultimate arbiter of all things, and Scientism has become the new religion.

      Yes, I used a lot of ifs, but I wanted to look into this idea of scientist or physician = cultist, murderer, or fiend. One way of getting there is to realize that scientists and physicians tend to be materialists. That's just some theorizing on my part, hence the ifs.


    3. I wrote: "And if you look at the cults, mass movements, pseudo-religions, and other crackpot systems of the last 170 years, you begin to notice that many if not all of them tried to back their murderousness with scientific, pseudoscientific, or pseudo-historical evidence or claims." I should have written "tried to back their murderousness and other offenses . . . ." As far as I know, Theosophists have never killed anybody. They have committed intellectual offenses, however.


    4. I think that supplanting God with science would be a huge step in the right direction. We as a culture, as a species will only make advances in our understanding of life, the universe and everything through observation and experimentation followed by rigorous peer review. Religion, on the other hand, encourages blind faith, acceptance of its dogma without question, without looking too closely.
      The last time religion held sway over Europe was an era called The Dark Ages. The Spanish Inquisition and murderous modern Islamic fundamentalism are but two examples of religions' willingness to suppress, at any cost, the advancement of any concept that might challenge their beliefs, and thus their control of the masses (which Christianity analogously calls "sheep"). Galileo was excommunicated and spent his final years under house arrest for committing the heresy of promoting the Copernican theory of heliocentrism. As you said above; the list goes on and on.
      The scientific process is a logical, self-correcting path toward truth and understanding. It is not a religion, it is not a god. Deism, on the other hand, appears to be nothing more than codified wishful thinking.
      I would rather know the actual "why" of something rather than just accept it as being God's will. That may have been enough several thousand years ago, but today we have the capacity to actually learn the truth. We no longer have to invent deities to explain the workings of our world.

    5. Mike,

      It sounds like your complaint is not against God so much as against religion. In any case, the world you describe in which no one believes in God and everyone believes in science instead sounds like a perfect nightmare. I can imagine people doing everything imaginable--including every kind of horror and crime--to escape from it.


    6. In a sense, you are correct. I don't believe in God, but I have problems with religions. Basically, my biggest complaints are with destructive and obstructive human failings, much the same as you.
      With or without deism in their lives, people have proven to be capable of -- even to have an inclination toward -- unforgivable abuses of their fellow man. Since some use their belief in God as justification for these moral crimes, I don't see theism as any sort of a buffer. Likewise (and speaking from personal experience) I don't see atheism as a path to immorality or amorality.
      I find your finally statement perplexing. If everyone shares an atheistic view, then what would be the nightmare from which people would so aggressively try to escape? I'm genuinely curious.


    7. Mike,

      I have seen this before: atheists claim not to believe in God, yet they seem to spend most of their time talking about the supposed evils of religion. Why is that? Why don't they spend their time arguing against the existence of God? If you're anti-religion, be anti-religion, but don't conflate being anti-religion with a non-belief in God. It all seems like muddled thinking to me.

      Anyway, people are people. It doesn't matter what we believe; we are all capable of the greatest of good things and the greatest of evils. We all have an angel and a devil in us, both at the same time and both battling for supremacy. We can all be godly and we can all be diabolical. I'm not sure that anyone would argue against those ideas. Christians as much as anyone (and I think Jews, too) understand that we are fallen in our nature. No true Christian could claim what you call a moral crime as a Christian act. A "Christian moral crime" is an oxymoron.

      Anyway again, imagining a society of atheists--atheists in their hearts, not just outwardly or officially atheist--would require a changed humanity. It would require that the vast majority of human beings who are believers in God willingly give up their beliefs, or, as in a totalitarian society, be forced to give up their beliefs under penalty of law or death.

      So you can't really get to an atheistic society in the first place. But even if you got there by some miracle, how would you sustain a society that by definition is living in despair? I don't like to rely too much on Wikipedia, but here is a quote of a quote from Michael Blume of Jena University:

      "Most societies or communities that have espoused atheistic beliefs have not survived more than a century."

      And more:

      "What I found [in his research] was the complete lack of a single case of a secular population, community or movement that would just manage to retain replacement level."

      In other words, atheists don't reproduce themselves. We can argue about the reasons, but if they don't reproduce, how might they expect to form a society of atheists?

      It seems to me that atheists, who are by definition materialists and seemingly believers in the supremacy of science, should adhere to the essentials of Darwinian evolution. One of those essentials is that the traits that provide for the survival of an organism bestow upon that organism a reproductive advantage. Would that not also be true of the trait of atheism? Shouldn't atheism bestow a reproductive advantage upon atheists? If so, why are there so few atheists? And why don't atheists reproduce themselves at sufficient rates to sustain let alone increase their populations?

      An atheistic society is a ridiculous idea and would be, like I said, nightmarish. People wouldn't choose it because people prefer hope and faith to despair. The only alternative is a society in which the State is supreme, people are denied their basic rights, and human beings are stripped of their humanity. Just ask the people who survived life in the Soviet Union about an atheistic society. Just ask the people in China who risk their freedom if not their lives to believe what they choose to believe and to practice their faith with their fellow believers.


  2. From my perspective, there are a couple of misconceptions in your assessments. The first seems to stem from what I earlier referenced about many (or all) theists being unable to comprehend the concept of life without Faith.
    Your assumption that the only alternative to Faith is despair is totally inaccurate. People can and do lead happy, fulfilling lives without the premise of God.

    I think you really missed my point when I said that I believe that "supplanting God with science would be a huge step in the right direction." At no time, in no way, did I mean to imply that this should be achieved by mandate. A totalitarian directive to believe or to think in a certain way doesn't really change anything...except people's open speech and activities. Everyone has the right to think and to believe what they want; and they WILL continue to do so regardless of what the State decrees.
    I was referring to a shift to atheism within each individual's core, in what people truly believe, not in what I or anyone else tells them to believe.

    "Supremacy of science."
    Once again, the assumption that science is a belief or a religion. Again I state, it is not. Science is a logical, systematic path to (or at least toward) the truth based on observation and experimentation. It is independent of theology, though many Atheists, like myself, reach their conclusion via science.

    Belief and Darwinism.
    No, Atheists don't beget Atheists. No one is born an Atheist. Nor are they born a Christian, a Muslim, a Hindu. These are not genetic traits that we inherit. Humans are born with a blank slate. What we believe is learned, are conclusions that we make based upon our life experiences.
    There continue to be more theists than Atheists in the world simply because organized religions have a long history of indoctrinating young children into their systems; bombarding their developing brains and minds with a barrage of data designed to mold them into the next generation of Believers.

    Atheism and anti-religion are two different concepts.
    True. But mentioning the flaws and faults in religion is not necessarily being more than pointing out the flaws in a democracy is necessarily being undemocratic (anti-democratic?).
    I mentioned those various atrocities committed by religions as a counterpoint to your earlier statement regarding science-based atrocities; to make the argument that it was human nature, not adherence to science that was the problem.
    I disagree with religions' central concept of a deity, but accept everyone's right to believe what they believe. But all too often religion is a tool of evil, and God is the tool of religion. Combine that sad reality with the fact that I believe the central premise of deism to be fallacious at best and dishonest at worst, and that makes the evils of religion a fair target in my book.

  3. Mike,

    I'll address only one of your points.

    You say:

    "There continue to be more theists than Atheists in the world simply because organized religions have a long history of indoctrinating young children into their systems . . . ."

    As Tom Magliozzi would say, "That's bo-o-o-gus!" People are not believers in God because they are indoctrinated into that belief. They believe because they--being free agents and capable of exercising their free will--choose to believe. You said so yourself: "Everyone has a right to think and to believe what they want . . . ." You didn't say "what they are indoctrinated to believe" but "what they want" to believe. Doesn't your use of that word connote choice, in other words, an exercise of free will? We shouldn't overlook the fact that every person at every moment of his or her life is faced with this question: Do I believe or do I not believe? The vast majority of people in this world continue to make the choice: I believe. To say that belief is not a choice or that people believe because they are indoctrinated into belief is to say that the vast majority of people are stupid, too stupid to make decisions for themselves, an idea that is more or less a milepost on the road to tyranny.

    My point is that a society that is both free and completely atheistic is implausible--perhaps impossible--because people will continue to freely choose to believe in God. I would argue that that choice is based in human nature. It wasn't invented. It certainly isn't something imposed upon people by some authority, religious or otherwise.


  4. Absolutely, people have the right to believe as they choose. But those choices can be and are molded by outside stimuli. Young brains are especially susceptible, with much of the nature of their thought process, learning patterns, and concepts of self-worth being formed within their earliest years. People can be hypnotized, or can be brainwashed into thinking and doing all sorts of things. Mob mentality shows the power that belonging to a group can have upon what individuals believe. Immersing young people in only one particular viewpoint, and then repeatedly drumming it into their heads that questioning that belief is very, very wrong employs the techniques of brainwashing with the power of the mob mentality during their most formative years.
    Yes, those are two different points that I made. People have the right to believe what they want. But often they are manipulated into a belief. This is the basis of advertising, of marketing. Every election cycle we are reminded that if someone repeats a lie often enough and it starts to sound like the truth.
    I don't know that "every person at every moment is faced with this question: Do I believe or don't I believe." Many people are just to be too busy, too focused, too overwhelmed by the minutia of their day to day lives to spend much time thinking that deeply. And that's where the church has a huge advantage; it can drum dogma into their heads for twenty years, then count on life keeping them too occupied to analyze it any deeper.
    Certainly there are stupid people, but I think that most people just find staying with what they were taught easier than figuring out a different paradigm. (I just recently listened to a lecture by a Lutheran minister who offered that as a reason for choosing Christianity over Atheism; it's easier for a deist to stay with what they know.)
    I will agree that a completely atheistic society is likely impossible, because people will alway have different beliefs. The problem that Atheists have in challenging Christianity (I choose this religion because it is the one that I am most familiar with) is the fact that what it purports to promise is so darned appealing; a pain-free eternal existence as a reward for the travails of our mortal existence. Unless one is wed to a dedication to the truth above all else, the allure of God and Heaven is hard to give up..

    1. Mike,

      Once more, I'll address only one of your points.

      You write:

      "Unless one is wed to a dedication to truth above all else, the allure of God and Heaven is hard to give up."

      Are you saying that on one side there is truth and on the other "the allure of God and Heaven"? Are you saying that to believe in God is to believe in something that is not true? If so, are you saying that atheists are in possession of the truth? That they alone are in possession of the truth? That only atheists know what truth is and that everyone else is benighted?

      I think you misunderstand Christianity. Christianity does not dangle eternal life like a carrot on a stick in front of an ignorant humanity. This is what Christianity says to you (meaning everyone, including you):

      You are an embodied spirit.
      You were made by God in his image.
      You have within you Godliness.
      You, your heart, your body, your soul, and everything that you are is sacred.
      God loves you.
      That love is limitless and eternal.
      You have a chance at eternal life.

      This is what atheism says to you (meaning everyone):

      You are a material object, nothing more than a piece of meat or a soup of chemicals. You are not a creation or a being. You are only an object.
      There is nothing about you that is godly or sacred because there is no such thing as godliness or sacredness.
      There is nothing in you or anywhere in the universe that is eternal or absolute.
      Love is merely a biochemical reaction, an expression of your selfish genes which seek merely to reproduce themselves.
      When you die, you become merely food for the worms. Nothing that you are survives you.

      This is what atheism tells you, and this is what atheists tell everyone they know. They essentially say to all people that their lives and the universe are random and meaningless; that they are merely material objects; and that anyone who believes in God is too stupid to know or see the truth. And they wonder why they are so lonely, friendless, and depressed. This is one of the reasons that atheists don't reproduce themselves: because they peddle a message of extreme arrogance coupled with one of extreme despair.


    2. Sorry that it always seems to come down to this, theists who interpret any informed disagreement with them as arrogance... resulting in an ignorant, self-serving blanket condemnation (which is after all the cornerstone of Christianity and many other religions. If you're not among the enlightened, then you are the enemy.)
      Your across the boards statements about Atheists -- that we are all lonely, friendless and depressed, and peddle a message of extreme arrogance and despair -- is just proud ignorance with nothing to back it up; condemnation for the sake of condemnation. Perhaps you are projecting your own inflexible thinking when you say that Atheists believe that all who believe in God are too stupid to see the truth. I certainly never said that, but I'm getting a sense of your condescending opinion of those who dare to disagree with you on this topic.
      To answer the questions of your opening paragraph: All that I've been trying to communicate is that Atheists do not believe in God. All of these other points that you thinly disguised as inquiries are far outside of what I've been trying to say.
      Looking at the empirical evidence, I see no reason to believe in God. If I'm wrong, then prove it to me and I'll change my belief to fit the facts. Not being a brainwashed theist, I'm willing to admit that I don't have a line on THE TRUTH. But the "You're wrong because I say you're wrong" or "Christianity must be true because it feels so good" arguments don't cut it.
      I don't think I misunderstand Christianity. It makes promises and appealing assertions without any proof to back them up. Maybe they are true, but I see no reason to believe them.
      No Atheists that I know say that people are not beings. Life is truly amazing. Sentient life is remarkable. Because I don't see it as eternal but ephemeral, I believe that human life is special in a way that Christians might not comprehend.
      Why should we have to feel godly or sacred in order to know we are special? What is wrong with being a part of the material world? We are not "only" objects, "only" a soup of chemical reactions; we are chemically reactive objects that can think, love, question and comprehend on a pretty astounding level. Our makeup is part of the whole of the universe, which to me is more believable, more satisfying, more awe inspiring than the premise that we were created by some omniscient being for the express purpose of worshipping Him.

    3. Now on to the next category of Weird Tales covers.